Inaugural Red Stick event draws 15,000 revelers

Mayor to continue annual celebration

An estimated 15,000 party-goers and revelers descended upon downtown Baton Rouge on Tuesday to see the 9-foot LED-lighted Red Stick drop at midnight and welcome the New Year in style.

Mayor-President Kip Holden said he was so happy with the turnout at the Red Stick Revelry that he will turn it into an annual event.

“The bottom line is we’re not going to veer away from the formula that had success,” Holden said.

Event organizer Rannah Gray said she could not be happier with how things turned out.

“It’s so hard to start something for the first time because no one has a picture of what it’s going to be like and how things are going to go, so to get that many people to be excited and come be a part of something, then you know it can only get bigger and better from here,” Gray said.

She said $100,000 was spent on the event, including $40,000 on the Red Stick that will be featured every year.

Gray said she was not sure how much money was collected from merchandise, food and alcohol sales because it had not been counted yet.

Several officials said they hoped to get a crowd the size of “Live After Five,” which brings about 4,000 to 5,000 people downtown for music shows, and were blown away with the response from residents, who turned out in force to support the city’s newest party.

Some of the inspiration for the Red Stick Revelry comes from the world-famous Times Square New Year’s Eve party, though for two Baton Rouge transplants, the two events are worlds apart.

“I don’t like cold and I don’t like massive crowds,” New York native David Dreznick said Tuesday night on North Boulevard with by his daughter, Sheryl Dreznick.

The Dreznicks never attended the Times Square party, but since moving to the Capital City more than six years ago, they immediately took a liking to the city.

So when they learned about the Red Stick Revelry in downtown Baton Rouge, they decided to give it a try.

“We decided to attempt to handle thousands because I wasn’t courageous enough to handle millions,” Sheryl Dreznick said.

They couldn’t have been more happy with their decision.

The event began at noon when the Red Stick rose up to the top of the video tower in the center of Town Center in front of about 100 bundled-up city-parish officials, children and adults.

Children painted wooden red sticks, learned about how Baton Rouge got its name and listened to the official song, “Red Stick Revelry” by local band Phat Hat.

Vendors said people slowly began trickling in from all directions between 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the midnight celebration.

Phat Hat got on stage at 9 p.m. and energized the Galvez Plaza crowd with timeless classics and their signature song.

Police officers told organizers they saw a big influx of people funnel in from every direction at about 11 p.m.

An intermittent drizzle was annoying to some people, who huddled together in nooks and crannies of buildings while others crammed together under umbrellas, but did not deter most of the party-goers.

Even when people were still filing in at 10 p.m., Holden said he was happy with the crowd and the atmosphere.

“They’re dancing, they’re having fun, they’re getting to know our city for those people who haven’t been here,” he said.

With 45 seconds until midnight, the large crowd gathered as the Red Stick slowly slid down the pole in the middle of North Boulevard’s Town Square, like the Crystal Ball in Times Square, until it hit the base and celebrations rang out as fireworks filled the sky overhead.

“What I saw last night was a huge success,” Paul Arrigo, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said Wednesday. “At 12 o’clock, I don’t remember seeing a crowd that big in downtown Baton Rouge for anything.”

Police Department spokesman Cpl. Don Coppola Jr. said there were no major incidents at the Red Stick Revelry and everything went smoothly for those who attended.

The director of the Downtown Development District, Davis Rhorer, said he could not be happier with how the inaugural event went, especially in terms of what it means for downtown businesses.

“It was an incredible experience,” he said. “I did a lot of walking around and to see all the restaurants full of people, the hotels full and people having a wonderful time. It was a great experience for everybody, so it was obviously an economic impact to this.”

He said he walked downtown last New Year’s Eve and saw restaurants filled and people walking around, but the Revelry was at a whole other level in terms of people downtown.

When asked if he could estimate the economic impact the Revelry had on downtown businesses, Rhorer said he could not give an estimate yet because he had not checked with businesses to see how their sales compared with other nights.

Officials envisioned a family-friendly event suitable for young children, but fun for adults at the same time.

Consider it mission accomplished.

“When I was young, my dad used to bring me down here for the Fourth of July fireworks, and I wanted to bring my kids to see how they like it,” said Jennifer Sloper, of Denham Springs, flanked by her husband Jason Sloper and their two sons, Avery, 14, and Addison, 10.

The four arrived for the possible fireworks, but were caught up in the revelry and said they would definitely consider returning for future New Year’s celebrations.

“I think that the whole downtown scene has improved in the last few years and this is the icing on the cake,” Jennifer Sloper said.